Then and Now: Mark Schofield
March 23, 2022
I read my colleagues’ ‘Then and Now blogs’ and thought to myself, phew at least I am not that old! I have been at Pall 10 years and as The Clash would say, ‘It ain’t no time.’
I seem to have a bit of a journeyman career. I was in no hurry to get a ‘real’ job and enjoyed hanging around in academia. But as time moved on, I realized that perhaps endless grant writing or giving college lectures were really not what I wanted to do. I enjoyed, and still do, the problem-solving aspect of science. Being at the forefront of knowledge, perhaps knowing something that no one else in the world knows, can be exhilarating. Or lead to a massive case of hubris – perhaps not as many people are interested in your niche as you are!
When I started at Pall, I had no direct biopharmaceutical experience and it was a bit of a culture change from academia. The biggest shock was the degree of structure and organization. There were not quite as many opportunities in industry to just go and try random experiments, but I have really enjoyed the clearly defined challenges at Pall. It makes it so much easier to focus. In academia I would spend more time thinking whether I should work on one topic or another and now it is more a case of, is this the right experiment that will give us strong conclusions?
The depth of quality through testing I discovered at Pall was eye-opening. Starting off as Senior R&D Engineer, I began working on mixed mode chromatography sorbents that I had never used before and did not really have any knowledge of. The reality was that it took a long time for me to get going and a lot of nurturing from a patient and inspiring boss to set me off in the right direction. However, in the end we came up with some novel screening methodologies and screening tools. These let us rapidly screen prototype resins, with an iterative funnel-based approach: The easiest, higher-throughput experiments were performed first. In this way we could screen out prototypes early in the process so there were fewer candidates for the more complex/time consuming experiments.
My first biopharma conference was a real turning point for me, and things started to make more sense and some of the gaps in my knowledge were filled. It was the American Chemical Society (ACS) in New Orleans, back in 2013. What could be better? I recommend both! Seeing the scientific acumen and depth of work going into understanding the manufacturing process and realizing there was a huge community of scientists with shared experience, was enlightening.
I gradually transitioned to leading the Chromatography Applications team I had joined and have since seen so many changes as the biopharmaceutical landscape has developed. There are so many new and challenging chromatography applications and research to be conducted. One day I can be working on mixed mode chromatography, the next day benchmarking competitor products to better understand the purification landscape. Then on to continuous processing, evaluating different continuous chromatography approaches, followed by continuous low pH virus inactivation, and helping set up the continuous downstream processing lab that we have here in Westborough, USA. It was running this week, all fully automated! Four days with minimal intervention!
As a team, every day we are problem solving. Recently for instance, we have been working on gene therapy and AAV full capsid enrichment. Well, this has been a challenge, especially having never worked with viruses much before – learning about bacteriophage lambda from the esteemed Noreen Murray and Dave Dryden (an acolyte of Murray’s at Edinburgh University, UK, who I had the privilege of doing an unpaid summer internship with) was not much help. But, as always, the team had some inventive thoughts and soon we were getting good separation with our Mustang® Q anion exchange membrane chromatography.
Looking back, it has been amazing transitioning from knowing really nothing about any of these topics to becoming knowledgeable enough to design good (maybe adequate) experiments, and then to become a subject matter expert in such a short time. It has been an amazing ride with a great deal of head scratching, and I think, some inspiration along the way. I feel super lucky that I have been able to remain a scientist and publish on almost all the projects we have worked on. And, in reflection, for most of my time I have been able to do what I enjoy, problem solving, designing experiments, and really driving hypothesis-lead science. Our latest article just got published. If you’re interested in enrichment of AAV, take a look, it’s open access! By moving into the biotech industry, I got to see way more of the world than I ever expected, and it has been an honor to present our work over three continents. And sometimes the views and locations have been more than acceptable!
Back then, as it still remains now, you can do far more when you are part of a great team. I have had the good fortune to work alongside some great colleagues and an inspiring manager. Currently, I am proudest of my Chromatography Applications team. They work nimbly, often dealing with my vague goals and coming up with plenty of inspiration along with the perspiration required to perform some very complex experiments. I see a bright future for them all!
To find out more about Mark Schofield or any of our Biotech People please read our biographies page.
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